NASA has come a step closer to flying its all-electric X-57 Maxwell. The first manned X-plane in two decades was delivered by manufacturer ESAero last month. It is based on a Tecnam P2006T aircraft where in its first configuration the two piston engines are replaced by two electric motors. In later iterations, the aircraft will be powered using distributed propulsion along the leading edge of the wing.
NASA has now completed wind tunnel testing on the propellers to be used in this distributed propulsion configuration at the Langley Low-Speed Aeroacoustic Wind Tunnel. Twelve of these high-lift motors will be used during take-off, providing lift augementation at low aircraft speeds. In cruise mode, these motors will deactive and collapse to reduce drag, while two larger electric motors remain active on the wing tips. The high-lift motors turn on again during landing. The tests, performed using full-scale propeller assemblies, provided valuable operational and performance data for flight conditions. The goal of the X-57 Maxwell is to share the lessons learned in electric-propulsion design and the airworthiness process with regulators as new electric aircraft markets begin to emerge. It also aims to increase high-speed cruise efficiency by 500%.